In the year 2000, North Branford resident Alice Lehr received accolades when her annual tradition of reserving the first Sunday in December for a celebration of eggnog and holiday cookies with family and friends resulted in a six-page spread in Yankee magazine.
This year, attention went to her Virginia-based daughter Jill Cook, who learned while in Connecticut at her mother’s eggnog celebration that she had been named the Republican Party of Virginia’s Volunteer of the Year.
“It was completely unexpected,” said Cook, speaking from her home in McLean, VA. There, she heads the Dranesville District for the Republican Party. “I have such hardworking volunteers.”
Cook, a self-described conservative, can recall political discussions she held with classmates as a student at Yale University. When marriage and then a family beckoned, she began knocking on doors for eventual Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-GA), even when she was pregnant.
“I just kept going with it,” said Cook of volunteer activities that extended
across her church, children's school and, yes, politics. She worked for each of former President George W. Bush’s campaigns. For his second presidential run, she volunteered for his candidacy on the campaign trail.
“Our message delivery has been poor,” she acknowledged of what ails the Republican Party in the wake of last November’s presidential defeat. She said she has begun a 15-Point Pilot Program in her Dranesville, VA, district to redefine the way Republicans present their message.
“We really have a lot of positive things to tell people,” she said, seeming somewhat surprised that many Republicans have taken an interest in the pilot program. “We’re starting this out at the grass-roots level.”
She noted that Fairfax County, where she and her husband live on the fringes of the nation's capital, has many Asian and Indian residents. She said she has learned over the years that many first-generation immigrants find language a barrier and that, “In many small ways, you realize these people are different ....”
“That’s what we want to encourage,” she said of a concern that engages her now. “Part of our plan is to help people with citizenship classes,” she said, adding that English language classes mattered, too.
In the case of Jill Cook, it seems the apple has not fallen far from the tree.
Her mother Alice, who also describes herself as a conservative, is a member of the North Branford Republican Town Committee. She also said she will call congressmen such as newly re-elected House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to tell him his policies have her support, even though she has no geographical relationship to his district.
In addition, Cook has followed her mother’s tradition of hosting an eggnog and cookie party, although she held hers at her Virginia home this year on Dec. 15. Her husband makes the eggnog, as her father once did, and she bakes the cookies. She conceded her celebration is a bit larger than her mother’s — this year, she had roughly 200 guests while her mother had close to one hundred — but, really, her party this year seems just a prelude for a number of activities to come.
Her daughter plans to get married this December, and Virginia has statewide elections this fall. “Lieutenant governor, governor,” said Cook of the elections that will take place.
The coming year, she said, is “a big one.”